Three Things To Do To Prepare For Immigration Reform

On his first day in office, President Biden canceled the Muslim travel bans, ended the MPP program (although they haven’t release the details of the rollback for the migrants who are waiting their hearings in Mexico), extended DACA protections, granted Deferred Enforcement Departure to Liberians and ended the border wall funding. This was possible because the President can pass executive actions immediately without congressional approval.

The other thing that Biden did on day one was propose an immigration reform legislation.

This is a major overhaul of the immigration system and it has to go all the way through Congress. It goes through the committee where it is reviewed, then a floor vote takes place in either the House or the Senate, then it switches and goes to the other side and undergoes the same process. There is a Committee Review, a vote on the floor and then it goes to Conference where all the discrepancies can be negotiated and finalized.

After this process with Congress, it then goes to the President's desk to be signed as a new legislation.

A reform legislation has to get through all of the steps and at each of those steps, people are tinkering with the details of it. Therefore on the immigration reform final legislation, nobody knows how it's going to end up. It will be different than the way it was proposed and no one knows exactly how.

The U.S. Citizenship Act

President Biden sent this bill to Congress to restore humanity and American values to our immigration system. It provides hardworking people, who enrich our communities every day and who have lived here for years, an opportunity to earn citizenship. The main part of this legislation is the roadmap to citizenship for the undocumented population. This bill is similar to the amnesty that was passed in 1986.

This roadmap would provide temporary status to undocumented people for five years who comply with a certain set of requirements. They can apply for a green card and eventually citizenship. There is a provision that the DACA recipients, TPS holders and farm workers could skip the temporary status and go immediately to a green card. There's a three-year pathway to citizenship and a physical presence requirement of being here in the United States on January 1st, 2021. However, there is a provision included that anyone who was deported under the Trump Administration could waive that physical presence requirement, but we'll see if that survives legislation.

For years, it's been up to Congress to do something about immigration reform. Now that the bill was presented to them, they have a starting point to begin talking about it.

It remains to be seen how this plays out. We all know immigration is a really divisive issue. Hopefully this bill survives and stays mostly intact through the process of legislation.

In the proposed reform, we have “Keeping Families Together” as a part of the legislation.

We're all about that at our firm. We want to bring families together, keep them together, allow families to visit each other and we want them to be able to travel. It's a main motivator of the work that we do.

This proposal would reform the family-based immigration system by clearing the backlogs, recapturing unused visas, eliminating the lengthy wait times, (which can be 20 years plus for some categories), increasing per country caps and eliminating the three and ten-year bars. Additionally, it would also establish protections for orphans and widows and children, allow immigrants who have approved I-130s to actually come to the United States while they're awaiting their priority date to be with their relatives. Presumably, immigrants would also get some sort of permission to work.

In the humanitarian piece of reform, there is support for asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations by eliminating the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications and then increasing protections for U-Visas for victims of crime, T-Visas for victims of trafficking and VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) applicants. More visas will be available so that the wait time isn't quite so long. Finally, there is a proposition for the recognition and protection of vulnerable immigrants who are applying on the basis of having suffered some sort of harm or persecution.

What you can do while waiting for immigration reform

You can count on us to be completely honest with you.

We tell you the truth about what's best for your situation. In the past, we have told people when it was not possible to help them, but now that we've got this potential immigration reform coming, our advice is a little bit different because there are things that you can do even if you can't apply right away.

1. FOIA - Freedom of Information Act

First thing is completing FOIAs and background checks while we wait for something to happen.

Whatever immigration reform happens to change, you're going to need to know your date of entry, your time in the US and what happened during every interaction with any type of law enforcement whether it's criminal or police or immigration.

Anyone who was undocumented, who was apprehended any time crossing the border or apprehended once when you were in the country, or if you were ever arrested or even if you received a ticket for something, you need to know the outcome of that interaction with law enforcement. Any kind of interaction with immigration officials is going to require a FOIA.

It's a law that says you're entitled to your data from the government in your immigration file. We can FOIA a whole set of government agencies and we'll determine which is right.

You can FOIA the National Records Center or Customs and Border Patrol or OBIM. If you've been in immigration court, we do a FOIA for that, which means we order a copy of your file so we know exactly what happened with your immigration interaction.

If you've had any police interaction, we need to know the outcome of that. Even if all you got was a speeding ticket, we want to ensure that the fine was paid and that you didn’t end up with a warrant for an unpaid ticket, for example. If you were arrested for anything, we definitely need to know the final ruling or order of the court, i.e., whether the charges were dropped or even if your case was dismissed, whether you were indicted or not. Lots of times, people are confused about the criminal disposition of their case because they think the charges were dropped or dismissed because they took a plea deal and were told it would be expunged or erased from their record, but that's actually not true.

Immigration has its own interpretation of criminal outcomes that is different from the criminal system.

Whether something is considered a conviction or not for criminal purposes, is not also true in the realm of immigration. Some dismissals can be considered convictions in the realm of immigration. That’s why we need to know the outcome of every interaction when we go to file.

If immigration reform passes in six months, you have to prove your time in the U.S. and your good moral character. Nobody knows what the immigration reform is going to be, but if it passes, they're going to ask you about all of your immigration and police interactions and the outcome of that. Guaranteed.

What we can do now is order a copy of your FOIA so we have that information ready, because it can take up to six months to get a copy of records. It’s best to start that right now, so that when immigration reform happens, we're not six months behind and we've already got the information that we need.

At our firm, we're offering FOIAs. We charge $1,500 for FOIAs which includes a credit. If you start a FOIA with us and immigration reform happens, we'll give you a credit for the work that you've hired us to do on your immigration reform case. It's worthwhile to start now, and it will help you in the future financially and because you'll be ready to actually start your case.

2. Continuous presence - What documents can people use to prove presence?

The proposed legislation only has a physical presence requirement from January 20, 2021. Most likely they're going to push that further back into the past. We recommend that you start thinking about your physical presence evidence from your last entry. Even if you entered 20 years ago, it would be useful to have some evidence from your whole time in the U.S., because almost always family or work ties or length of time in the U.S. works in your favor. It strengthens your case, and in almost every type of immigration case we do that matters. It was part of the amnesty in the 80s to have this proof of physical presence.

Anything that shows your name, a date, and has a location in the United States will count. Whether it's a receipt for payment of your cell phone bill or school records, they'll show a period of time over a period of years. Taxes, pay stubs, gym memberships, lease contracts, rent receipts, mortgage payments or any kind of insurance that you have. It could also be your pictures from Disney World 10 years ago. Anything that has you as an identifying person, a location inside the United States and a date on it, will serve as physical presence evidence. Bank statements are great because presumably you use your account often, so it shows real continuous physical presence.

In order to prepare for your case, start thinking about when you last came in and what are the types of interactions that you've had here in the United States since your entry. Start gathering the evidence. Go back to your old apartment complex and request a copy of your lease. If you've closed a bank account, reach out to that bank and ask them if you could get a letter of proof that you had an account open with them during the period of time that you did. Start thinking about your school records, etc.

It’s important to get started as soon as possible because when DACA was reinstated, banks were receiving so many requests that they had a backlog to get records. That will happen because they have so many people trying to get this information at the same time.
If you know that you have something that you need to request, start today.

3. Taxes

File your taxes. If you haven't ever filed your taxes before, this is the time to start doing it.

Everybody has received their W-2s and their 1099s for their work in 2020. Even if you were paid in cash under the table or you didn't work, meet with a tax preparer now because if you were here in 2020, you need to have filed the 2020 tax return. Taxes are likely to be part of whatever reform happens. That's partly how you demonstrate that you have good moral character, that you're paying your taxes and contributing to our economy.

Of course, we know that you pay property taxes, sales taxes, etc. People who aren't filing the federal income tax are still contributing.

We have a vlog with Foundation Communities. They have a free tax preparer and they are here and ready to help to try and get your taxes going.

Of course, as we move through this process, we will have new executive orders and we’ll have movement through Congress for the reform bill. Stay tuned! We'll update you on all our social media and platforms as soon as we receive any news. Call or text 512-599-8500 to begin your FOIA with us today.